Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama/McCain =JFK/Nixon?

Last night's debate was held 48 years to the day
after the first JFK/Nixon debate, which commentators
thought was close, with the edge to Nixon. But voters
gave it to JFK to the extent that history records it as
the turning point in the campaign. Today a consensus
is emerging that the same thing happened last night:
a combination of substance and style, plus the electorate's
desire for change, gave this debate to Obama despite
some pundit's initial reaction. And it may have all
but sealed the deal. It's expressed for example, here
and visually in the brilliant image above, by Al Rodgers.

The Winner

Flash polls, focus groups, many pundits agree: Barack Obama won the first debate, demonstrating his foreign policy and commander-in-chief credentials, his presidential demeanor, and vastly increasing his favorability. More on Friday's events and the debate at American Dash.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday Post Mortem

The most recent rendering of what happened at that White House meeting Thursday comes from the AP, headlined "A Bad Day for the GOP." Like other accounts, it says that the plan that was close to acceptance was stopped by House Republicans, who presented their own plan, the major premise of which the Republican Treasury Secretary said wouldn't work.

But this article's writer, Charles Babington, provides a new detail: At one point, several minutes into the session, Obama said it was time to hear from McCain. According to a Republican who was there, "all he said was, 'I support the principles that House Republicans are fighting for.'" Some at the table took that to mean the conservatives' alternative proposal, which stands little chance of passage."

A late night meeting called to try to salvage a plan broke up when House Republicans essentially boycotted it. Babington writes: "This is the president's own party," said Rep. Barney Frank, a top Democratic negotiator who attended both meetings. "I don't think a president has been repudiated so strongly by the congressional wing of his own party in a long time."

By midnight, it was hard to tell who had suffered a worse evening, Bush or McCain. McCain, eager to shore up his image as a leader who rises above partisanship, was undercut by a fierce political squabble within his own party's ranks.

The consequences could be worse for Bush, and for millions of Americans if the impasse sends financial markets tumbling, as some officials fear. Closed-door negotiations were to resume Friday, but it was unclear whether House Republicans would attend.

Republicans and Democrats alike seemed unsure which way McCain was leaning. His campaign's statement late Thursday shed little light.
"At this moment, the plan that has been put forth by the administration does not enjoy the confidence of the American people," it said. It was unclear whether McCain would attend Friday night's scheduled debate against Democratic nominee Barack Obama in Oxford, Miss.

The New York Times story this morning on these events adds some details as well as more evocative language. Of particular note: McCain met with House GOPers before the White House meeting. Right now, if I were Rachel Maddow, I'd be trying to get somebody to talk me down from the suspicion that Thursday events were all an elaborate set-up for something Friday that would cast McCain as the hero and embarrass Obama, perhaps by McCain announcing he's convinced the House GOPers to go along--but not until Obama is in Mississippi for the debate. I may be giving McCain too much credit, or I may just be paranoid. But if I'm wrong, this indeed was a perilously bad day for Republicans and potentially for the country and its future.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quick Read on Today

After a few hours of "monitoring events" I'm taking a walk. Here's my gleaning of what happened today:

Leaders who have been negotiating the bail-out had the basic agreement on a plan that phased in the big bucks over time, and met the other basic conditions that Barack Obama and others stipulated. On the strength of this, the markets rebounded.

But at the White House meeting, a bizarre looking event, things unraveled, perhaps temporarily, perhaps as part of a plan to make it look like McCain will later today announce he's rescued the plan. Or not. Nobody knows. Senator Dodd said that the meeting was more in the nature of a rescue the McCain campaign than the country, although McCain apparently had very little to say during the meeting.

At this hour it seems that McCain's gambit of Wednesday is itself unraveling. He hasn't really suspended his campaign--his ads are up, his campaigners are on TV and he's doing interviews. Plus his threat to diss the debate tomorrow has been widely castigated, so he has to find a face-saving way of showing up after all, regardless of where the agreement is.

If all of this was orchestrated in advance, then shortly before debate time tomorrow we'll hear McCain announce that he's brought the House Republicans into an agreement, and he has saved the day. Then he gets on the plane to Mississippi. However, there are indications that his latest moves, like others previously, have been improvised, so there's no telling how this will play out.

Meanwhile, there is real discontent in the country with the idea of a massive bail-out of Wall Street multimillionares. If this political gamesmanship goes on too long, then we may find out in real time just how bad things can get without some sort of solution.

Obama on the Economic Future

A one minute message on what he will do to fix the economy.

Obama in Florida

Although he will be in Washington this morning,
Barack Obama has been preparing for Friday's
debate in Florida. He took time out for a rally

Economic Crisis Wednesday

As fast and as weirdly as things moved on Wednesday, Thursday's events could move even faster.

Wednesday began with a morning phone call from Barack Obama to John McCain, requesting that they issue a joint statement of principles they both believe should be in the bail-out package Congress is considering. A reasonable request, since they both had talked about an oversight board, reigning in CEO pay and helping homeowners avoid foreclosures.

But McCain didn't take the call and didn't return it until mid afternoon. Shortly after agreeing to the statement (which when it was finally issued didn't say much at all, although Obama appended his own five point substantive set of principles), McCain unilaterally announced he was suspending his campaign to go to Washington Thursday and work on the crisis proposal, and further, he requested that Friday's presidential debate be cancelled. McCain admitted Tuesday that he had not read the 2 1/2 page administration proposal. Obama has been talking to the principals in the discussions every day.

Obama said the debate should go on as scheduled, saying "It is my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess,” Mr. Obama said. “It is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”

Then the debate commission announced that the debate would go on as scheduled, and the McCain campaign let it be known that if the economic crisis bill isn't set by Friday, McCain will not participate in the debate. (A Survey USA flash poll showed that only 10% of those polled thought the debate should be cancelled.)

Then President Bush invited both McCain and Obama to the White House Thursday for a meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the crisis proposal. Obama accepted, and presumably McCain will also be there.

Then at 9pm, President Bush addressed the nation on the crisis. His explanation for how it got so bad seemed to blame citizens more than Wall Street or the failures of government regulators, but his statement on the bail-out plan did include several provisions Democrats and some Republicans have been insisting be part of it.

Meanwhile, while all of this highly visible drama was going on, those negotiating the actual bail-out package were getting closer to agreement. Eventually Dem Congressman Barney Frank announced the deal was all but done, and though he's been on the optimistic side before, several reporters confirmed this.

So what may very well happen Thursday is a meeting which crosses the ts and dots the i's at the White House in the morning, with a done deal shortly thereafter. It might even be passed tomorrow or Friday, in plenty of time for the debate.

But it might take a day or two longer, and that's when things get crazy again. Lawrence O'Donnell on the Rachel Maddow show pointed out that McCain has no reason to go to Washington because he has no function in these negotiations--he's not a member of any of the relevant committees trying to hammer out the deal, and he doesn't have all that much political pull with the House Republicans who seem to be the biggest barrier to an agreement. O'Donnell sees this as presidential politics mucking up the process--which is precisely why Obama wasn't in Washington. Bush's invitation to both candidates gives McCain cover--something to go to, where he can look like he's involved. But apart from that, he has no function there.

O'Donnell thinks a deal is a few days away. So if it isn't concluded by Friday afternoon, what happens to the debate? No candidate has ever refused to participate in a debate previously agreed to, for any reason, not even sitting presidents. Barney Frank called this the most Hail Mary Hail Mary pass in the history of football, and Marys. This one may have already hit the turf.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Obama 52% McCain 43%

The new Washington Post/ABC poll shows Barack Obama leading McCain 52% to 43% among likely voters, and 52-42 among registered voters. The poll was taken Sept. 19-22, and these photos are from campaign stops during that period and since, in Colorado, New Hampshire and Nevada. (Click on the last photo to get a better idea of what Obama is pointing to.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Economic Crisis Tuesday Roundup

Tuesday saw a contentious hearing in the Senate on the Administration bail-out plan, and House negotiator Barney Frank continues to say that a deal including what Democrats say are necessary additions and modifications is still on track. But it's not only Democrats who don't want to be rushed into a bad deal. The Bush administration attempt to scare Republican House members into solid support failed miserably, as they roundly rejected the intervention of VP Cheney.

The NY Times reported that Barack Obama outlined four conditions for the bail-out plan: a payback plan for taxpayers if the bailout succeeds; a bipartisan board to oversee the bailout; limits on any federal money going to compensate Wall Street executives; and aid to homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages.

Here's a link to some video from Obama's press conference Tuesday, as well as the text of what he said.

Obama on the Bail-out Today

From First Read: "In his strongest language to date regarding the hotly-debated plan to rescue America's financial system, Obama called on President Bush to be more flexible about changes to the proposal and warned Wall Street CEOs against being selfish about the terms of the bailout.

“Yesterday, the President said that Congress should pass this proposal to ease the crisis on Wall Street without significant changes or improvements,” the Illinois senator told reporters, arguing that everyone has a stake in solving the crisis to protect the jobs and the life savings of millions. “Given that fact, the President’s stubborn inflexibility is both unacceptable and disturbingly familiar. This is not the time for my-way-or-the-highway intransigence from anybody involved.”

“There’s been talk that some CEOs may refuse to cooperate with this plan if they have to forgo multi-million-dollar salaries,” he said sternly. “I cannot imagine a position that’s more selfish and more greedy at a time of national crisis.”

He said he wanted to deliver a message directly to those CEOs: “Do not make that mistake,” he said. “You are stewards not only of your companies, but of workers and communities all across the country who have put their trust in you. With the enormous rewards that you’ve reaped come responsibilities and we expect and demand that you to live up to those responsibilities. This plan cannot be a welfare program for Wall Street executives.”

Obama also reiterated his plans to go forward with his agenda for middle class tax cuts, universal healthcare, investments in renewable energy and other areas despite the tax burden of the bailout, arguing they were necessary to strengthen the economy. He again urged Bush and McCain to join him in supporting an economic stimulus plan to help working families, though he made it clear that he was not insisting this package be included in the bailout legislation.

The Danger Zone

Not many of us can understand in detail how to solve this economic crisis right now, and we depend on people we trust to do the right thing. So let's say they are right, that some sort of action is necessary immediately to prevent what everybody is calling an economic meltdown, which sooner rather than later would result in Great Depression II. And let's say that it involves the government intervening with lots of money that might all disappear, leaving a huge bill for taxpayers.

Now there is less agreement on this than there was a couple of days ago, but still, even critics of what's been proposed--like Paul Krugman of the NY Times--say that some major government action is required, soon. The reason, according to Barack Obama, is to "maintain liquidity," which means, among other things, the ability of businesses, large and small, to borrow money even for a short time, to meet payrolls, buy supplies, perform maintenance, and meet other costs of doing business. Beyond that, it means investment borrowing to expand, to start new businesses to employ people.

The first proposal by Bush Secretary of the Treasury Paulson was stunning in its oversimplification and the sweep of the power he wanted to grant to himself, completely unreviewable by courts, unsupervised by anyone else. That overreaching made everyone stop and look at other deficiencies: the need to support home buyers and prevent foreclosures, the need for transparency, accountability, and the need to not reward the businesses and the executives who screwed up so royally in the first place.

While those debates go on, ordinary Americans have responded from the heart. After all these years of being told that we can't build or repair infrastructure, we can't have affordable and universal health care, we can't lower middle class taxes, we can't support the next generation of clean energy technology that is our best investment for the jobs of the future, we can't even help our fellow citizens in need even in emergencies like Katrina--because we don't have the money. Now we're told that we have to potentially throw away as much money as we've already wasted on a useless, needless destructive war in Iraq. We have money to buy up companies that through unrestricted greed have brought our entire economy to the brink of collapse. And probably hire the CEOs of those companies to help figure out what to do with them.

The stories online with comments and the blogs, as well as columns in newspapers, there is a theme: if you're bailing out Wall Street, what about me? I have a little business that could use such a small piece of that $700 billion that you wouldn't miss it. How about bailing out my balloon payment on that mortgage I was fraudulently suckered into? How about paying those predatory credit cards? Or this woman: Dear Mr. Paulson: "I know you are busy bailing out financial institutions but if you have a minute I was wondering if you could loan me $3000.00 I haven't been able to afford health insurance for years and would love to get a mammogram."

While this Secretary of the Treasury is, as they say, the only one we've got, and so some deference is due him, his own background and acuity in these matters is suspect. But the even bigger problem is who he works for. We're being asked to trust the administration that has brought us Iraq, Katrina, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the rule of Blackwater and other mercenaries, the gutting of the Constitution and the Courts, the stripping of professionalism from every department of government, beginning with Justice; rampant corruption in the Interior Dept. and elsewhere; a war on science that doesn't benefit oil companies, huge tax cuts for the very wealthy and decimation of the middle class, the outsourcing of our remaining productive capacity, and this very economic crisis.

This is the administration of a president whose approval rating hit 19% today, and nobody noticed. His rating for handling the economy is 17%. It used to be said that if Bush announced that he was Satan, he would still get a 30% approval. Now he's got the support of fewer than 1 of 5 Americans. At best, he is the lamest lame duck in history. But that's still his Treasury Secretary.

Americans haven't seen many effects of this crisis yet. But they will. Senator Bob Casey made an acute observation to salon: "The magnitude of what happened on Wall Street is hard for anyone to absorb. Maybe it hasn't fully sunk in because the image of real economic calamity is so based on the 1920s and the Depression. Maybe things will change as people begin to look at what has happened to their retirement accounts over the next few weeks."

And when people do begin to realize the extent of this, then the real danger begins, especially if a bipartisan plan is not in place and already showing signs of working. We're going to be in uncharted territory.

But crisis is also opportunity--not only for the unscrupulous this time. Barack Obama is making a consistent argument that suddenly makes sense as not only a vision of hope but the best way forward: change the emphasis from supporting the wealthy, globalized corporations and Wall Street, to supporting workers and small business, with support for housing and credit problems, but more broadly, support for universal health care (which is a huge cost for families and businesses, and an enormous drag on the economy), education (to compete for better jobs, to have better lives), and for community. It means incentives to keep and encourage good jobs in America, not the previous emphasis on supporting global corporations in their never-ending quest to find the cheapest labor. Suddenly the "change from the bottom up" philosophy of his politics becomes more clearly an economic vision.

That support also means new productive enterprises, an America that builds things again, and the growth opportunity is clean energy technology, retrofitting, infrastructure for the new reality of less dependence on oil and the changes needed to save the planet from the global heating that is the ultimate economy (and life) destroyer.

This is the way to a better future, that can begin in November if Americans make the right choice. And that may depend on how we navigate this danger zone between now and then.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bail-Out Plan Progress

Rep. Barney Frank told the AP that a lot of progress has been made on a bail-out plan that includes several layers of oversight, help to prevent mortgage foreclosures, limitations on executive pay in exchange for these government funds, and a more limited time period (one year instead of two.)

While stories earlier today suggested that widespread opposition to the Bushite proposal by Democrats and conservatives might stall the plan's passage until next week, this story asserts that it may get done even earlier than the end of this week, perhaps by Wednesday.

In the meantime the stock market dropped 372 points, although it had been even lower earlier in the day. The price of oil, which had been falling, suddenly jumped $16 a barrel, its largest one day increase on record.

Update: by Monday night, Barney Frank was saying that he overstated the areas of agreement with Bush reps, and that the process could take longer than this week. However, House and Senate Democrats are in general agreement on what they need in this bill, he said. In the Senate, Democrat Chris Dodd has stepped up with his own proposal, which is getting good support and praise for being more detailed than the Bushite government proposal.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Obama in Charlotte. N.C.

Photos posted at dKos taken at a huge rally in
Charlotte--25 to 30,000--where Barack Obama
spoke about the economic crisis. See video and post below.

Obama on the Crisis Today

Barack Obama today before a huge crowd in Charlotte, N.C. This excerpt is about 10 minutes. He outlines the principles in the post below.

Obama Refuses to be "Shocked"

Barack Obama issued a statement on the Bushite bail-out plan that includes this sentence: "But thus far, the Administration has only offered a concept with a staggering price tag, not a plan."

Obama emphasizes seven principles that must go into such a plan, and the first one is: "No blank check. If we grant the Treasury broad authority to address the immediate crisis, we must insist on independent accountability and oversight. Given the breach of trust we have seen and the magnitude of the taxpayer money involved, there can be no blank check."

Among the other principles: We cannot underwrite continued irresponsibility, where CEOs cash in and our regulators look the other way. We cannot abet and reward the unconscionable practices that triggered this crisis. We have to end them.

Taxpayers should be protected. This should not be a handout to Wall Street.

Help homeowners stay in their homes.

A global response. The United States must lead, but we must also insist that other nations, who have a huge stake in the outcome, join us in helping to secure the financial markets.

Main Street, not just Wall Street. The American people need to know that we feel as great a sense of urgency about the emergency on Main Street as we do the emergency on Wall Street.

Build a regulatory structure for the 21st Century. While there is not time in a week to remake our regulatory structure to prevent abuses in the future, we should commit ourselves to the kind of reforms I have been advocating for several years. We need new rules of the road for the 21st Century economy, together with the means and willingness to enforce them.

"The bottom line is that we must change the economic policies that led us down this dangerous path in the first place. For the last eight years, we've had an "on your own-anything goes" philosophy in Washington and on Wall Street that lavished tax cuts on the wealthy and big corporations; that viewed even common-sense regulation and oversight as unwise and unnecessary; and that shredded consumer protections and loosened the rules of the road. Ordinary Americans are now paying the price. The events of this week have rendered a final verdict on that failed philosophy, and it is a philosophy I will end as President of the United States."

Update: The NY Times reports that congressional Democrats have joined Barack Obama in structuring the bail-out along the lines he suggested:

Meanwhile, top Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill said on Sunday that they would act swiftly on the administration’s request, but not without setting their own conditions.

“Congress will respond to the financial markets crisis by taking action this week in a bipartisan manner that will protect the taxpayers’ interests,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. She added that the administration’s proposal did “not include the necessary safeguards. Democrats believe a responsible solution should include independent oversight, protections for homeowners and constraints on excessive executive compensation.” “We will not simply hand over a $700 billion blank check to Wall Street and hope for a better outcome,” she said.

The Times story also said: "Democrats pushed for assistance for distressed homeowners and for oversight authority of the bailout program. Some lawmakers also said they did not want to be rushed into approving extraordinary new powers for the Treasury secretary and the government without full consideration of the consequences."